A parade down Third Street in San Juan Bautista marked the climax of San Juan School’s eighth-grade graduation for the class of 2020 held at the school on June 10, an event that teachers, students, and parents worked to make memorable for all.
“We wanted to find a way to honor our students within the confines of what could be done here,” said Principal Elizabeth Cord. “We surveyed what other schools were doing and we combined that with what was available to us, considering the need to keep everyone healthy.”
The plan called for a drive-thru ceremony. Cars were arranged in front of the library, drive-in movie style, with all the cars facing the front of the school. When it came time to present diplomas, the students were driven to the presentation table one by one, then returned to their parking place.
At the end of the ceremony, the cars lined up for the procession from the school grounds down Third Street to Glad Tidings Church at the corner of Third and Muckelemi streets.
The 33 participating students were allowed to come to the lot in shifts the day before and were given chalk to decorate their parking space. Each had an allotted space, with a space between left empty in adherence to social distancing.
As the students and families gathered, volunteers covered the chain-link fence near the basketball courts with lawn signs bearing each student’s name. Just before the ceremony, a family member, teacher, or friend was allowed to stand at the fence holding a photograph of each graduating student, later to be presented to the student as they were driven by the spot in their car.
Thirteen-year-old class Valedictorian Hank Holthouse, who brushed off the honor by saying all it took was “getting a lot of As,” was accorded Parking Space Number One, allowing him to be presented with the first diploma and allowing his car to lead the procession.
Prior to the ceremony, Holthouse said he was pleased to be among his friends again.
“When they canceled classes, I liked it at first,” Holthouse said. “You don’t have to get up as early and the work is easier. But I missed the interaction with other people.”
Holthouse was also aware that working from home was not easy for some of his classmates and he saw that as a concern, should remote learning be used again in his upcoming freshman year of high school.
“Some of the students did not have a connection to the internet so they had to use packets. About a sixth of our students here had to do that. It’s not as effective a way of learning,” he said.
The ceremony began with brief remarks from Cord, followed by a pre-recorded speech by Holthouse, which was inspired by the challenges of this unusual school year.
“You can get through more by learning from your experiences,” he said. “To me, it is all about adaptability and overcoming obstacles.”
As the name of each student was called, their car would pull out of the parking space and circle to the front of the school where it would stop in front of the presentation table. Faculty would present the graduate with their diploma, a souvenir t-shirt reading “The Class of 2020/#Quarantine/San Juan Padres,” and any medals or awards they had earned during the year.
A photo was taken of the student seated in the car, posing behind a decorated cutout frame reading “CONGRATS GRAD.” Then the car would drive to a spot near the basketball court fence where someone from the family or a faculty member would present the student with a large photo portrait. The car would return to the designated parking space and the next name would be announced.
Holthouse was the first to get his diploma, followed by class co-Salutatorians Alexa Flores and Eleanor Guaracha.
“It’s very exciting,” Flores said before the event. “Every day when we had classes at home I kept telling myself ‘I am going to get through it.’ There is something special and unique about this. It has never been done before like this so we are making history.”
After all the diplomas were handed out, the cars, led by a San Benito County Sheriff’s patrol car, proceeded from the school down to Third Street ending at Glad Tidings Church.
While the school year has finished for these students, the next one—when they enter high school as freshmen—remains something of a mystery to them. For Holthouse, it could be working toward becoming a microbiologist. For Guaracha, it is taking more Spanish classes. One thing the students agreed on, though: high school would be better if it was held in a classroom filled with their friends.
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